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HMRC internal manual

VAT Health

The zero rate for dispensed drugs: background: what is dispensing?

In its decision in the case of Wellington, St Martins and BUPA’([1997] STC 445), the Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the High Court which had given the term ‘dispensing’ a very restricted meaning. It found that ‘dispensing’ meant no more than ‘giving out’ medicine and that drugs were dispensed to hospital in-patients once the nurse had removed them from the stock kept in the ward. The Court of Appeal therefore found that the supply of drugs could be zero-rated as they were dispensed according to item 1, Group 12 of Schedule 8. The Court of Appeal decision prompted a change in the law from 1 January 1998, introducing the ‘personal use’ criterion described above.

Item 1 to Group 12 refers to the supply of any qualifying goods dispensed to an individual for that individual’s personal use: and not merely to the dispensing of qualifying goods. The law does not specify who should make the supply or who the supply should be made to. Therefore, provided the goods on prescription are initially dispensed by the appropriate practitioner and are packaged and labelled for the personal use of an individual, the dispensed goods can still be zero-rated even if they are supplied to a third party who in turn delivers the goods to the final customer. This arrangement is common in respect of drugs supplied over the internet.